“Break the stigma,” and “Don’t be afraid to talk about it,” were among the messages from author and TV commentator Eric Bolling about the opioid epidemic at an appearance in Greene County this week.
Hundreds of Cedarville University students and community members attended the “Your Voice, Your Future” town hall on campus, hosted by Bolling and featuring guests including former Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor, Xenia pastor and recovery advocate Greg Delaney and Dr. Marc Sweeney, dean of the school of pharmacy at Cedarville University and a former president of the Ohio Pharmacists Association.
Bolling, a frequent Fox News guest, lost his college-age son to an overdose 14 months ago. He is holding opioid crisis town halls across the country to raise awareness, reduce stigma and get communities talking about the crisis that took more than 70,000 lives nationwide in 2017.
Although opioids have been a frequent topic in political campaigns and at events across Ohio for the past couple years, Cedarville students said this was the first such event they’ve had on campus and they appreciated the chance to hear from experts and ask questions.
“This was very informative,” said Sarah Lewis, a senior who is currently working on a class project about solutions to the opioid epidemic. “I have a lot of questions, obviously, but I thought this was a good start.”
Sweeney said events like this one are important because the community needs to be a part of the solution, and because there are still too many misconceptions in the public about addiction.
“People perceive it to happen in other families,” he said.
Despite new laws intended to limit opioid prescribing, many adults and teens are still being sent home from surgery and emergency room visits with powerful drugs they don’t know how to handle responsibly, Sweeney said.
In 2018 the doses of opioids prescribed nationwide was three times higher than it was in 1999, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., was slated to appear at the town hall, but couldn’t attend. Despite subzero temperatures and the campus being closed to classes during the day Wednesday there was a large turnout.
Taylor shared lessons she’s learned from seeing both her sons struggle with addiction. She gave advice to other parents.
“You can’t save them from themselves,” she said. “They have to save themselves.” But parents can listen and support their children.
Having discussions with children early about drugs and proper use of pain pills was brought up numerous times as a prevention solution.
Gov. Mike DeWine appeared via video interview and said education is key.
“I can’t tell you in five years if we’ll have an opioid epidemic,” he said. “But we will have some sort of drug problem.”
DeWine mentioned Montgomery County’s Community Overdose Action Team as a model of how community resources can come together to address the crisis.
Making overdose reversal drug Narcan more widely available was a solution discussed by several guests.
“You have to save a life first,” Taylor said.
A student suggested campus buildings should have emergency Narcan available to which Bolling replied, “Narcan everywhere!”
Bolling shared the story of his son’s death on a college campus in Colorado. His son bought what he thought was a Xanax pill from someone on campus, but it was laced with fentanyl and he never woke up after overdosing.
“One pill can kill,” Bolling said.
The event was coordinated by, and broadcast live on, ABC6 Columbus and Sinclair Broadcast Group stations across the state.